Unison: Why social care professionals need time for CPD

Community Care and Unison's campaign calls for 10% of working time to be available for continuing professional development. Gordon Carson investigates how this can be achieved

Community Care and Unison’s campaign calls for 10% of working time to be available for continuing professional development. Gordon Carson investigates how this can be achieved

The call by Unison and Community Care for social care workers to have the right to 10% of their working time to be made available for continuing professional development and related activities focuses attention on the issue at a time when it could slip down the list of priorities of many in the sector.

As Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care and social work, points out, training and development budgets can be among the first casualties of efficiency drives, particularly at a time when frontline services are under huge pressure and managers may be reluctant to divert staff from their core tasks.

It is difficult to generalise about CPD in social care, particularly due to the diversity of tasks and employers in the sector. The guidelines are clearest for registered social workers, though; they must complete either 90 hours or 15 days of “study, training, courses, seminars, reading, teaching” or other related activities as a condition of registration every three years.

Other social care staff, such as those working in residential care, are not subject to the same requirements, and their access to CPD activities can depend on the attitude of individual employers.

Pile says: “Too often our members complain that even if they are able to access CPD opportunities, they have to do it in their own time or not at all. If employers have pressure to deal with workloads, that’s going to come first.”

National standards aspiration

Pile would like to see national standards on CPD and related activities, and also points to the example of education, where teachers in England and Wales (with the exception of some staff recruited by academies) have an entitlement to use at least 10% of their timetabled teaching time for planning, preparation and assessment.

There is no wider requirement for schools that a certain amount of time must be allocated to CPD as a whole, and the Training and Development Agency for Schools says this is “the responsibility of the school and the individual”. But it has developed a national training and development programme for CPD leadership, which offers training on what makes CPD effective, how to connect CPD, performance management and reviews to professional and occupational standards, and techniques for evaluating the impact of CPD.

Union partnerships with employers can also help staff to access CPD, even if some of it has to be done in their own time (see case study). In addition, Pile says employers can help to reduce the workloads of frontline staff and free time for CPD by improving administrative support.

Health check progress

John Nawrockyi, secretary of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ workforce network, says the health check of social work services, announced by the Social Work Task Force, has enabled local authorities to measure progress on CPD.

However, given current pressures on social care, it would be a “challenge to make additional time available”, he adds.

“I’m not sure if 10% is realistic for employers though it’s a good aspiration,” he says. “While employers want to provide the opportunity, we would want to ensure services are maintained for clients. There’s always a balance between the employer, employee and service user and we’ve got to get that balance right.”

Employers can at least access support from national bodies such as Skills for Care and the Children’s Workforce Development Council – though this will be scrapped and its functions handed to the Department for Education from 2012.

In September, Skills for Care published a new CPD guide for adult social care workers and employers, which included 14 case studies showing CPD in action in various adult social care settings.

Meanwhile, the CWDC is leading the newly qualified social worker and early professional development schemes for children’s social workers. Both include elements of CPD, and social workers agree with their supervisor the types of training and development opportunities that will help them meet their objectives.


More than 3,500 staff across 149 employers (142 local authorities and seven voluntary organisations) have registered on the NQSW scheme, which states that 10% of social workers’ time must be dedicated to professional development. In addition, more than 500 NQSWs have progressed to the Early Professional Development scheme, which requires employers to provide 15 learning and development days for social workers over their two years in the programme. Early Professional Development workers also receive two hours per month of protected supervision. Although these conditions may not meet the demands of the Social Work Contract, at least they must be met by employers.

The CWDC is promoting CPD for social workers in later stages of their careers, too, and has been working with 86 local authorities to develop support for frontline managers incorporating mentoring and coaching.

It has also been working on a CPD framework for the wider children’s social care workforce, known as Professional Pathways, which is due to launch in March 2011. This is still due to happen, despite the fact that CWDC loses all government funding from 2012.

Core issue

It is clear, then, that CPD is a core issue for national workforce bodies, and their funding and backing has enabled local employers to offer extra support to thousands of social care workers too.

However, Pile warns that CPD must not be allowed to “drop off the agenda of employers” as they tackle funding cuts.

“It will be service users in the end who will get worse outcomes,” she says. “Freshening and updating skills is so important for the outcomes they produce for service users.

“Good CPD is also crucial for shoring up the recruitment and retention problems in social care. Providing it will mean that people are better able to stick with the profession and feel they have career development.”

CASE STUDY: Unison and Open University Learning Partnership

An initial investment of £650 could produce long-term career benefits for some social care workers in the West Midlands, who have been funded by employers and Unison to take an Open University course that leads to the award of a certificate and can also contribute to a degree-level qualification.

Unison has also arranged for students to receive 10 days of additional study skills sessions and secured release from their day jobs to attend them, something they would not have been entitled to if they had signed up for the course individually.

The OU’s K101 (initially K100) An Introduction to Health & Social Care course, which contributes 60 credits towards a university degree, runs over 10 months. Much of the content is delivered through distance learning, through tools such as DVDs and online exercises. Students must also complete exercises and assessments in their own time, which can mean 15 hours a week on top of their day jobs.

Gurdeep Singh, learning and development organiser for Unison West Midlands, says: “Rather than pay for people to get day release from a traditional university, we saw it as bringing the university into the workplace.”

Wolverhampton Council is among the employers to send staff on the course (see testimonials below). And Worcestershire Council has extended its financial support for its latest batch of students, funding 20 places while another six are funded by Unison.

The previous Worcestershire group had the best results of any from the West Midlands taking the course, says Singh, achieving an 88% pass rate against an average of 54%.

“Employers are not going to part with their money unless they see a real benefit to their service and organisation,” he adds.

UNISON members paying their own fees can obtain a discount of 10% on the normal fees charged by the Open University for courses in the Health and Social Care programme at Levels 1, 2 and 3. To find out about this and other learning opportunities for UNISON members visit UNISON and Community Care’s Workplace Zone.  

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